Prospecting is a critical part of your sales process. If your prospect list is qualified, your outreach will be easy. People will be replying to your cold emails because they can see they’re in need of what you’re selling.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to build a prospect list from the ground up. 

By the end of the guide, you’ll know the exact steps to follow to build a list of highly qualified prospects that you can reach out to and start having conversations with.

  1. What is a Prospect List?

  2. How do you Make a Prospect List?

  3. Prospect List Building Tools

  4. Using the BANT Framework to Qualify Your Prospects

  5. Reaching Out to Your Prospects with Cold Email

Let’s dive in.

What is a Prospect List?

Your prospect list will include every potential sales lead that you want to reach out to in your cold outreach campaign.

Each prospect needs to fit the criteria you determine makes them a potential client or customer for your business.

A well-structured prospect list also includes key information about each prospect, such as:

  • Their name

  • Company name

  • Job title

  • Email address

  • Phone number

Anything that you believe will come in useful for either you or your sales team should be noted down on your prospect list.

How Do You Make a Prospect List?

1. Determining Your Ideal Prospect

The first step is to decide who you’re going to be targeting in your outreach campaign.

To make the prospecting process run smoothly it’s best to stay focused on one particular customer segment. If you have multiple ideal customer profiles in your business, you can split your prospect list apart and keep each customer segment separate. When it comes to doing your sales outreach, you can use messaging that’s closely tailored to each customer segment’s interests and pain points, and it’ll increase your chances of success. 

To make your prospecting as effective as possible, it needs to be more targeted than a generic persona.

It needs to consider:

  • Job titles

  • Industry

  • Company size and revenue

  • Location

  • Recent company updates and news

  • Potential pain points you can solve

The more details you have on your prospects before you reach out, the better. Every detail can be used to personalize your cold email templates and direct conversations to where you want them to go.

To help you move forwards, it’s a good idea to set a target number of prospects for your campaign, and stick to it. Once you have enough prospects, start reaching out to them. The faster you do, the faster you can start learning from your interactions with them.

2. Cleaning and Verifying Your Prospect List

Not all of your prospects will have verified email addresses or phone numbers.

B2B databases and sales email finders naturally lose accuracy over time, as people change jobs or leave a company. 

You can use tools like NeverBounce, ZeroBounce, and Dropcontact to verify your prospect emails. They’ll test if it’s possible for the email address to receive mail, and if not, let you know and flag the email for you.

You can also verify prospect emails directly inside QuickMail, either during the upload process or manually. You just need to connect your account with the email verification tool of your choice, and then, verify emails as part of your workflow when importing prospects into QuickMail.

The key benefit to verifying your email addresses is that you’ll see fewer of your emails bouncing from your prospects’ inboxes, which can harm your email deliverability if it happens too often.

Expect around 10-20% of your email address to be unverifiable, so account for that during your prospecting process.

3. Organizing and Formatting Your Prospect List

The best way to format your prospect list is in a spreadsheet. You don’t need an expensive CRM or sales platform when you’re getting started.

Google Sheets has more than enough capabilities to be the base for your prospect list.

Most prospecting tools, like UpLead and ZoomInfo, let you export your search results to a CSV file.

In your CSV, you’ll need to make sure it’s structured clearly, and in a way that makes it easy for you or for a team member to jump in and gather information on a particular prospect.

As well as having the standard columns for name, email address, company name, job title, and phone number, consider extra columns for an opening line, or a custom PS, or even the dates of your planned follow-ups.

You can then use these columns to automatically personalize your sales emails.

For example:

In the opening line column, add a simple line that’s completely custom per prospect, such as:

  • Congratulations on the recent funding for {{company.name}}

  • Just listened to you on {{prospect.custom.Podcast}}, I enjoyed your discussion on the difficulties of hiring developers.

There’s no secret to writing these opening lines, but the essential part is that they make your email completely unique to that prospect. 

We wrote an entire guide dedicated to the art of writing cold email opening lines that boost your replies, and you can read that here.

When your prospect list is ready in a spreadsheet, you can easily import it into any cold email software, cold calling tool, or CRM and have data that’s compatible with it.

Another key benefit of using Google Sheets is that you can connect your prospect list to QuickMail and automatically add new prospects to your campaigns whenever your spreadsheet changes.

If you need a starting point for your prospect list, make sure to download our free prospect list template here.

Prospect List Building Tools

You don’t need to scour the web for prospects and guess email addresses to build a prospect list. There are a variety of prospect list-building tools available, all of which can play a key role in your prospecting efforts.

1. B2B Databases to Identify Prospects Based on Select Criteria

The first simple way to find prospects is with a B2B database platform. If you have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is, you can use filters to quickly identify anyone matching your ideal customer profile (ICP).

For example, if you know your ICP is:

  • A CEO or Chief Operating Officer

  • Works in a software company with $10 million annual revenue or more

  • Has a team size of 5 or more

  • Uses WordPress or Webflow to host their website

You can use these prospecting tools to find anyone matching that profile, and most of the time, the tools will provide you with a verified contact email and direct dial phone number for the decision-maker you need to reach.

B2B databases you can use include:

Image source: Lead411

When using these platforms, always double-check the contact details are correct before using them in any sales campaigns because there’s always a chance the contact details are outdated.

Most B2B data tools let you filter by demographics, firmographics, technographics, and occasionally even offer intent data to help you find prospects already in need of a product/service like yours.

2. Use Online Directories to Prospect by Company Type

The main issue with B2B databases is that they can lack context as you’re presented with search results in the style of a spreadsheet.

A highly effective way to prospect, particularly for agencies, is using directories like Capterra, G2 Crowd, and Clutch.

For example, let’s say you run a lead generation agency helping HR-tech software companies book more demos.

You can head to Capterra and choose the Human Resources software category. 

Then, add filters such as the company location (USA, UK, or other). You can even add user reviews, so you know you’re only working with companies with a good reputation and strong customer base. 

For example, if we filter by companies with 5-star reviews, there are still 225 search results, which is a good starting point for our prospect list. 

Save any company that looks like a good fit for your services into a spreadsheet.

Once you have a list of companies, you can use an email finding tool like:

These tools will look at the company website URL and match it against their database records.

If there’s a match, they’ll show you a verified email address and names of decision-makers at that company.

This approach can take longer, but because you manually verify the companies you add to your spreadsheet, the relevance of each prospect will be higher and your end results can be even better than if you had double the prospects on a lower-quality list.

3. Use LinkedIn to find Decision-Makers in Key Roles

LinkedIn is still the best place for up-to-date employment details for people in your industry.

Most people list their current job title and company, location, and past experiences on LinkedIn, so after checking someone’s profile you’ll immediately get a feeling for if they’re the right person to reach out to.

If you’re relying on LinkedIn for lead generation and sales prospecting, we’d recommend using a paid Sales Navigator account.

It opens up:

  • Higher search volume limits

  • Additional filters to narrow down your prospect list

  • Ability to save prospects into lists

  • Integrations with other sales tools and your CRM

The price will pay itself back within days as you can add more qualified prospects to your prospect list and reach out to them faster.

There are a variety of LinkedIn outreach tools available that can help you with your prospect list building, too.

For example, the Skrapp extension will show you valid email addresses for prospects if you click it while on their LinkedIn profile. Once you have it, you can extract it and add it to your prospect list so you have all the information you need for when you start your outreach campaign.

Using the BANT Framework to Qualify Your Prospects

When you reach out to prospects you’re asking them to commit time, energy, and eventually, money, if they’re a perfect fit for your services. 

It’s vital that you qualify every person you contact to avoid you wasting your time, or anyone else’s time.

There are several prospect qualification frameworks that you can use to vet your list. But, for most businesses, the BANT framework will be enough.

It looks at four factors, which are:

Budget: Does your prospect have the available budget for your product/service? The ROI you can deliver will also play a part here.

Authority: Is your prospect the person with the decision-making authority at the company you’re reaching out to? If you’re unsure, it’s better to email a more senior decision-maker than someone in the middle of a company hierarchy. Even if they’re not the best person, they can refer you to someone who can make the decision. 

Need: Is your solution a pressing need for them? The best way to figure this out is during your preliminary research. For example, if you see a company is hiring for new marketers and salespeople, you know they’re likely to need help with growth services as that’s a current pain point.

Timeline: Will they need your services today, in six months, or in a year? Is it likely your services are going to be a priority for them? It’s hard to know this before reaching out, but with good research, you may be able to find clues.

Once you’ve created a prospect list and vetted each person you’re reaching out to, it’s time to prepare your cold email campaign and start having conversations.

Reaching Out to Your Prospects with Cold Email

Cold email gives you a direct way to start conversations with key decision-makers in your prospect list.

Personalizing Emails using Attributes from Your Prospect List

If you used our prospect list template (or created a similar one), your prospect list will have attributes for:

  • First name

  • Company name

  • Job title

  • Notes to use for an opening line

You can insert these into your email templates with attributes in QuickMail.

First, make sure your attributes were added during your prospect import, or, add them manually. In the example below, {{prospect.custom.Opening_line}} would turn into “How are you?” in the email template.

Then, when writing your templates, add your attributes wherever you want them to go.

You can add whatever attributes you need, as long as you added them during your prospect import process.

When you send your emails, the attributes will be automatically personalized so every prospect receives a completely unique email from you.

Following Up to Boost Reply Rate

Over half of replies to cold prospecting emails come from a follow-up.

To make sure you give yourself the best chance of a reply, include multiple follow-up steps in your cold email campaigns.

Use each follow-up email to alternate your call-to-action and find new angles that make it easy for your prospect to reply.

Most of the time, busy decision-makers will be happy to reply as long as your emails prove that you’ve done your research into them and their company before reaching out. 

Tracking Campaign Metrics

To track your success, QuickMail has analytics so you can track your cold email metrics like open rate, reply rate, and more. 

You can see the results of every campaign in your dashboard.

If you’re running multiple campaigns for your business, or for your agency clients, you can see an overview of your results in one place and report back to your team or your clients with all of the data they need.

Wrapping Up

Your prospect list is the foundation for your sales campaigns. The more effort you put in initially, the more qualified your prospects will be, and the more replies you’ll get to your cold email campaigns.

There are no shortcuts to building a qualified prospect list. 

It takes time and manual work, but it's going to pay off if it results in more replies and more conversations with potential customers and clients.

You can use the tools and processes we mentioned here to improve your workflow, and at the end of your prospecting efforts, have a well-formatted spreadsheet that you can put to work in QuickMail, or any other sales tool. 

Make sure to grab our free prospect list template here, and when you’ve added your prospects, start sending personalized cold emails with QuickMail.